It was always thought that India was a melting pot of different influences coming from the West, either by trade or through invasions, and that she owes many of her achievements – her sciences, philosophy, or religion – to outside influences, whether it is by the way of the Aryan invasions for the Vedas, or via the Greek incursions, which are supposed to have influenced her architecture and philosophies. But more and more discoveries, both archeological and linguistic, are pointing to exactly the opposite direction: In the millenniums before Christ, it is Indian civilization which went gradually westwards (we shall not speak of its march eastwards, as there is hardly any controversy about it) and influenced the religions, the sciences and the philosophies of many of the civilizations which are considered today by the West as the cradle of its culture and thought.
The influence of the Hindus on Egypt, the Greeks and Palestine
American mathematician A. Seindenberg has demonstrated that the Sulbasutras, the ancient Vedic mathematics, have inspired all the mathematic sciences of the antique world from Babylonia to Egypt and Greece. “Arithmetic equations from the Sulbatras were used in the observation of the triangle by the Babylonians and the theory of contraries and of inexactitude in arithmetic methods, discovered by Hindus, inspired Pythagorean mathematics”, writes Seindenberg. In astronomy too, Indus were precursors: XVIIth century French astronomer Jean-Claude Bailly had already noticed that “the Hindu astronomic systems were much more ancient than those of the Greeks or even the Egyptians and the movement of stars which was calculated by the Hindus 4500 years ago, does not differ from those used today by even one minute”. American Vedic specialist David Frawley has also demonstrated that the methods utilized in the building of Egyptian pyramids were also borrowed from the Hindus. “The funeral altars, for instance, he writes, which are also in the shape of pyramids, were known in the Vedic world under the name of smasana-cit”.
What about philosophy ? Hindu Shivaism seems to have had a tremendous influence in the indo-Mediterranean world and reincarnated itself under different names, at different places, during Antiquity. French historian Alain Danielou noted as early as 1947 that “the Egyptian myth of Osiris seemed directly inspired from a Shivaïte story of the Puranas and that at any rate, Egyptians of those times considered that Osiris had originally come from India mounted on a bull (nandi), the traditional transport of Shiva”. But it is mainly Greece that was most influenced by the myth of Shiva: many historians have noted that the cult of Dionysus (later known as Bacchus in the Roman world), definitely looks like an offshoot of Shivaism. Danielou thus remarks that “the Greeks were always speaking of India as the sacred territory of Dionysus and historians working under Alexander the Great clearly mention chronicles of the Puranas as sources of the myth of Dionysus”.
There is also no doubt that the impact of the Vedas and subsequent Hindu scriptures, such as the Vedanta and Upanishads, was tremendous on the different philosophical sects which flourished at different times in Greece, such as the eleatic, orphic, platonician, stoic, gnostic or neoplatonician movements. We know that the Greek Demetrios Galianos had translated the Bhagavad-Gita and French philosopher and historian Roger-Pol Droit writes in his classic “L’oubli de l’Inde” (India forgotten) “that there is absolutely not a shadow of a doubt that the Greeks knew all about Indian philosophy”. Alain Danielou quotes Clement of Alexandria who admitted that “we the Greeks have stolen to the Barbarians their philosophy”. And even William Jones, the XVIIIth century linguist of British India, noted that “the analogies between Greek Pythagorean philosophy and the Sankhya school, are very obvious”. German philosopher Shroeder had also remarked in his book “Pythagoras und die Inder” that nearly all the philosophical and mathematical doctrines attributed to Pythagoras are derived from India, particularly the Sankhya school.
It also seems very clear that Hinduism played an immense role in the making of Christianity, particularly the writings of the Gospel. Alain Danielou point outs that “quite a few events surrounding the birth of Christ as they are related in the Gospels, are strangely similar to Buddhist and Krishnaite legends”. And it is true that the resemblances existing between Buddhism and Christianity cannot be simple coincidences. Buddhism was flourishing in northern and north-east India during the times of Christ and there are many legends that he came to India to be enlightened (and supposedly died in Srinagar). Even if we discount these stories, there is no doubt that many Buddhist and Hindu teachers traveled to Palestine in the beginning of our era. Alain Danielou thus notes that the structure of the Christian church resembles that of the Buddhist Chaitya, that the rigorous asceticism of certain early Christian sects reminds one of jaïna practices, that the veneration of relics, or the usage of rosaries are all Hindu customs”. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living, which is practiced in more than eighty countries, also remarks that Jesus sometimes wore an orange robe, the Hindu symbol of renunciation in the world, which was not a usual practice in Judaism. “In the same way, he continues, the worshipping of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism is probably borrowed from the Hindu cult of Devi”. Bells too, which cannot be found today in synagogues, the temples of Judaism, are used in churches and we all know their importance in Buddhism and Hinduism for thousands of years. There are many other similarities between Hinduism and Christianity : incense, sacred bread (Prasadam), the different altars around churches (which recall the manifold deities in their niches inside Hindu temples); reciting the rosary (japamala), the Christian Trinity (the ancient Sanatana Dharma: Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh), Christian processions, the sign of the cross (Anganyasa) etc…
This Buddhist and Hindu influences started worrying later Christians: Saint Hyppolitus is know to have treated Brahmans of “heretics” and later, Saint Gregory even destroyed himself some of the pagan Gods of a colony of Hindus who had settled on the river Tigris.
(To be continued)